Nastiness on social media gets a lot of coverage. Here in the YUK lengthier sentences are being considered for people (usually men) who post revenge porn. When his girlfriend dumps him, and who wouldn’t, Fred posts pictures of her for all to see wearing little or nothing. Sometimes the pictures are ‘compromising’ and occasionally go so far as to feature the girl in question engaging in sexual congress with him. (Don’t ask me who took the shots, I don’t know either.) Essays could be written, and no doubt have been, as to why such pictures exist in the first place, but given the fact that they do they should not be used as weapons in a campaign of retaliation.
Then there are the many cases of unprovoked nastiness involving Twitter hate campaigns against people such as the parents of the missing girl Madeleine McCann. Why do they do it? Does it make them feel better somehow?
But of greater relevance to this blog there are those who do their best to undermine the work of writers. They come into two categories. Some readers like to do it, relentlessly pursuing their victims under cover of assumed names. A recent case in point was documented in the Guardian by an author at the receiving end of such treatment. Readers of the article will find there is a verb for this: to catfish. Surely a bit hard on catfish.
What motivates such people isn’t obvious, though it is only too clear when it comes to another type of attack: putting down a competitor. Such attackers may also use assumed identities and are sometimes referred to as sock puppets.
‘A sockpuppet is an online identity used for purposes of deception.’ ‘A significant difference between the use of a pseudonym and the creation of a sockpuppet is that the sockpuppet poses as an independent third-party unaffiliated with the puppeteer.’Wikipedia
There are well documented cases of this, some from the academic world. Shocking, right? People with letters after their names should know better! The relevant extract in Wikipedia rehearses a number of well-known cases, this one being of particular interest here.
‘In 2010, historian Orlando Figes was found to have written Amazon reviews under the names “orlando-birkbeck” and “historian”, praising his own books and condemning those of fellow historians Rachel Polonsky and Robert Service. The two sued Figes and won monetary damages.’
So what do you do if unfairly attacked, as Kathleen Hale was (the author of the Guardian article)? It will depend on the nature of the attack, but as a rule I would say the best strategy must be to ignore it. Think of it as a game the attacker wants to play. Tennis, for example. He/she hits the ball over the net. But they can’t keep playing if you don’t hit it back. You win. It may not feel like it at the time, you may feel aggrieved, but your attacker wants a reaction. Don’t give it to him, that’s what he feeds on.
And the strangest thing is that I was led to consider this subject because I have recently been on the receiving end of considerable kindness from someone I didn’t know existed till a few weeks ago. Unlike online nastiness, individual acts of online kindness go unreported. But in my limited experience, there’s a lot of it out there and it seems like a good idea to say so.